With two mega stars in Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, two of the most well-respected writers in Hollywood in Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men”), and a well-established name in George Clooney directing, one would think this would be the perfect movie to end the month of October. However, a story with zero focus, unlikeable characters and poor social commentary derail “Suburbicon” from even being a half-decent picture.
There are two present stories in “Suburbicon.” One story follows Gardner (Damon) and his family dealing with the aftermath of a home invasion that results in the death of his wife, Rose (Moore). Then there is another story of the Mayers family moving into Suburbicon, and the backlash of that from the community who does not like the idea of having an African-American family in the neighborhood.
These two stories are not connected whatsoever. The only connection these two families share is the friendship their sons Nicky (Noah Jupe) and Andy (Tony Espinosa) share through baseball. Nicky is the main foil for the movie, as the events of the movie and the reactions to those events are played through his perspective.
This is fortunate as his father, Gardner, is a detestable human being as the twists and turns of the movie play out. Without spoiling too much of what the home invasion means for the family, Gardner takes a very passive approach to his assailants and thrusts himself into a relationship with his sister-in-law Margaret (Moore).
To his credit, Damon plays the role very well, and Moore’s ability to portray two different characters is a moderately done effort, but it was painfully obvious when a stand-in was placed in scenes where Rose and Margaret are present.
Each individual story is written well by the Coen brothers, but the endings of those stories were muddled and not very subtle. What is most frustrating is the passive role the Mayers’ play in their story. “Suburbicon” is meant to play up a ‘60s type of setting where the nuclear family was strongest and racial ties were put on the edge. The Mayers are confronted with many acts of racism placed in front of them, but they strive on and stay on their feet. But this is all we get from their story. There is no end in sight for how the Mayers will continue to live in a racist community, and there is no catharsis for the angry mob getting any punishment for their inhumane actions.
This is the problem with the movie’s dark humor. In today’s landscape, casual racism is largely looked down upon, but in “Suburbicon,” the racist jabs are meant to be funny. A present line in the movie is, “Things weren’t always like this until the Mayers moved in.” This is oddly meant to be a funny joke about the community being closeted racists, but there is no punchline at the end for the community to be wrong about their viewpoints and see that the Mayers are just a family trying to make it through life like everyone else.
This lack of focus falls on Clooney’s shoulders. There is no direction in where the story is going. He tries to mix in social commentary on suburban neighborhoods and the flaws of the nuclear family model, but it all falls flat as there is no real message at the end. Perhaps an innocence of youth angle is what Clooney was looking for with Nicky and Andy’s scenes being the most well-lit and drowned out of any angry noise.
If Clooney did anything right in this movie, it is his visual eye for scenes. He blocks scenes very well for tension and drama. He sharpens out colors in a classic Coen brothers type of way. He even has an Alfred Hitchcock influence in the third act of the movie as well.
“Suburbicon” may have great visuals and cinematography, but it lacks a clear and focused story, and its attempt at social commentary just falls flat.
Final Grade: D-